Mark Galli, newly converted Catholic, is ‘part of the family’ now

Mark Galli, renowned Christian journalist, editor and author, converts to Catholicism

Aaron Lambert

In some sense, Mark Galli was almost destined to be Catholic; God just brought him there in a very roundabout and gradual way.

Baptized Catholic as a boy at the instigation of his grandmother, Galli remembers his first confession. He received First Communion as well, though he has no memory of it (“I have pictures of it,” Galli said.) And on Sept. 13, at the age of 68, Galli was confirmed as the newest member of the Catholic Church at the Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus in Joliet, Illinois. 

Though only eleven days a Catholic when the Denver Catholic interviewed him, Galli brings a wealth of knowledge and a lifetime of faith to the Church with him. 

A lifelong Christian, Galli was a member of Presbyterian and Anglican churches in the past and served as a pastor for 10 years in the former. Galli also recently retired from an illustrious 30-year career as a Christian journalist and writer. He’s authored several books and still writes regularly for his blog, The Galli Report. Among the various publications he’s worked for is Christianity Today, which he served as editor-in-chief of for seven years.

“The first magazine I worked for was Leadership, which is a magazine for pastors,” Galli told the Denver Catholic. “And I knew that we had some Catholic priests read us because it was basically principles on how to pastor a congregation. The next magazine I worked for was Christian History. It was a magazine that covered all of Christian history.”

Though the seeds for his conversion were technically (even spiritually) already planted as a young boy when receiving the sacraments, those seeds slowly began to be sowed during Galli’s stint with Christian History. In 1994, he was editing an issue devoted to St. Francis of Assisi and remembers being taken aback by this saint and his resolute faith.

Around that same time, Galli also became aware of Pope St. John Paul’s II encyclical Veritatis Splendor, which had just been released. While reading through the encyclical and feeding his lifelong interest in theology, something about both St. Francis of Assisi and John Paul II struck Galli.

“The same Church has produced this radical, personal devotion and lifestyle to this great mind,” he said. “I’m thinking, ‘The same Church produced both of these; I need to know more about this.’ It was at that point I started on and off making my way toward Catholicism in a more serious way.”

‘Because Jesus commanded it’

Despite the religious influence in his life early on, religion wasn’t a big part of Galli’s initial upbringing. However, a chance encounter with a TV pastor by his mother when he was 13 changed all that.

“My mother had an evangelical conversion watching Billy Graham on TV,” Galli said. “When he turned to the TV camera and said, ‘you at home that want to accept Christ can get on your knees,’ she did. And in my family, if my mother really got into something, we all got into it.”

From that point on, Galli became immersed in the world of evangelicalism. He and his family began to attend an evangelical church near Mount Hernon in California and study the bible every night after dinner. Galli answered an altar call to give his life to Christ and remained steadfast in his faith growing up.

Chesterton has that famous quote, ‘To be deep into history is to be Catholic. And there’s some truth to that, because you get in there and you begin to see the both the devotion and the wisdom of the church before the Reformation in ways you hadn’t before.”

Mark Galli

A 2015 Pew survey showed that 34 percent of American adults practice a different religious tradition than the one they were raised in. It’s also no secret that Catholics are leaving the Church in droves to join evangelical or protestant churches — congregations that still preach the Gospel but are generally more lenient on those difficult teachings of the Church. In fact, according the same survey, for every Catholic convert who enters the Church, six Catholics leave. 

The reasons people convert to Catholicism are many. For Galli, it was the rich history of the Church and the gradual realization that the Catholic Church truly is what it claims to be: the one true Church that Christ himself founded.

“Chesterton has that famous quote, ‘To be deep into history is to be Catholic,’” Galli said. “And there’s some truth to that, because you get in there and you begin to see the both the devotion and the wisdom of the church before the Reformation in ways you hadn’t before.”

For many converts, there are often certain doctrines of the Catholic faith that are more difficult to reconcile with Evangelical or Protestant traditions — the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary or intercessory prayers to saints, for example. Early on in Galli’s life, he had an experience with a Sunday school teacher that helped to disarm the notion of simply rejecting some of these teachings because he didn’t understand them.

“I distinctly remember this one Sunday school lesson where the teacher read some passage in which Jesus commands his disciples to do something,” Galli recalled. “I don’t remember the passage, but I remember the teacher saying, ‘why should we listen to what Jesus says here?’ And the class came up with … all these pragmatic reasons why we should do this. And he kept on saying ‘no.’ Finally, we said, ‘Well, what?’ And he said, ‘We should do it because Jesus commanded it.’

“That informed my approach to scripture from then on and it just became cemented in me that scripture was the word of God. It was the word of Jesus. And my job was to figure out how to understand it and then put it into my life as I could.”

Learning the ropes

Alight by the first fervor that comes with conversion, Galli is like a sponge soaking up all that the Catholic Church has to teach. It comes with a bit of a learning curve, he admits, but he’s confident this is where the Lord wants him to be, even if friends, family and his readers and followers don’t fully understand it. 

“I can tell my family, my children especially, are a little mystified, like, ‘oh, what’s dad doing now?’” he said. “Two people have told me I’m going to hell because of this. But pretty much everyone else, and this would be dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of people, basically said, ‘awesome!’ It’s an interesting time in church history for that to happen.”

Now, Galli can experience the fullness of the universal Church and participate in the Sacred Liturgy, no matter where in the world he may find himself. While visiting family in Denver in late September, Galli went to morning Mass at the Cathedral on the feast day of Padre Pio. Afterwards, he was given a Padre Pio prayer card and medal – and wasn’t quite sure to make of them.

“I picked it up and I opened it in my car, and I thought, ‘Well, a prayer card I get, you turn it over and you say the prayer. But what am I supposed to do this medal?’” he said with a laugh. “It’s even things like that. Are these on a chain or is there a chain with a bunch of medals on it? Or do I wear it on the wrist? What do I do with this thing?”

He lets out a hearty chuckle and smiles. “I’m part of the family, but man, I have a lot to learn.” 

COMING UP: Five tips for reading the Word of God

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Sunday, Jan. 24 marks “The Sunday of the Word of God,” instituted by Pope Francis last year and to be held every year on the third Sunday of Ordinary Time. This may strike us as odd, as we might think to ourselves, “but isn’t the Bible read at every Sunday Mass?” Certainly so. Not only that, but every daily celebration of the Mass proclaims the Word of God.

What’s different about “The Sunday of the Word of God,” however, is that it’s not just about hearing the Bible read on Sundays. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith notes, it “reminds us, pastors and faithful alike, of the importance and value of Sacred Scripture for the Christian life, as well as the relationship between the word of God and the liturgy: ‘As Christians, we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us. A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers. For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with Sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, inflicted as we are by so many forms of blindness.’” This gives us a wonderful opportunity to pause and reflect on the Sacred Scriptures. 

There are two means by which God Divinely reveals truths to us: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. As such, the Bible is not merely a human document, nor simply a collection of amazing stories that call us to do heroic things, or a collection of wise sayings. Rather, the Scriptures are “inspired.” St. Paul has a beautiful teaching about this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” By “inspired” we mean that God is the principle author of the Bible.

Certainly there were different men who physically wrote the words on the papyrus. Yet these men were influenced by the grace of inspiration to write, not just their own words, but God’s. And so the Scriptures are a mysterious congruence of Divine and human authorship – the human writers capably made full use of language, literary forms, creativity, and writing style to communicate their message, yet they did so under the grace of Divine inspiration. This means that while they wrote in such a way that they had full freedom to write as they wanted, what they wrote was also, “to a tee,” exactly as God wanted written. God is the principle author of the Bible, the human author its secondary writer. Such inspiration is how, despite the various human authors, events, and historical and cultural contexts behind the 73 Biblical texts, we’re still left with only one story since they all have the same one primary author. 

Given that the Bible is the written word of God, I’d like to offer a few “tips” for reading the Bible, since it certainly cannot be read like any other text. 

1. Pray! We must pray before opening the Scriptures for enlightenment from God. We must pray after reading in thanksgiving to God. And we must pray throughout reading in order to encounter God in Scripture and apply it to our life. Of course, the tried and trusted practice of praying the Scriptures is Lectio DivinaThe Ladder of Monks by Guigo II is the ancient resource for Lectio Divina, while a helpful book to get you started is Dr. Tim Gray’s Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina

2. Remember that you are in no rush. The important point is encountering Christ in the Scriptures, not racing through them. Speed reading isn’t reading, after all, much less when applied to the Word of God. It’s not about getting through the Bible, but encountering Christ therein. That may be a few chapters at a time or may actually be only one verse that you pray with. Whatever the case, slow and steady wins the race, as Aesop reminds us. 

3. We have to read the Scriptures regularly, daily if possible. We read in Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Meditating day and night. A good way to start would be to read one Psalm a night as a part of your nightly prayer. Ever better would be praying that one Psalm with your spouse, if married. 

4. Do not worry about starting on page one and reading from cover to cover. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the text. We all know about Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the Plagues. But how many understand animal sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus or its purity laws? It’s very easy, starting from page one and flipping straight through, to lose sight of the story of salvation history. Start from page one if you’d like, but don’t feel like you can’t start with whatever book (especially the Gospels) that you find yourself drawn to. 

5. Come take classes with the Denver Catholic Biblical School! In chapter eight of the Book of Acts, we read of an Ethiopian Eunuch reading from the Prophet Isaiah. When the Deacon Philip asks him if he understands what he’s reading, the Eunuch responds, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” This is what we at the Biblical School are here for – to guide you in your encounter with Christ in the Sacred Scriptures. We’re in the middle of our Scripture classes already for this year, but we always start new classes in the fall every September. And in the meantime, we have plenty of things still coming for this year – a class on Catholic Social Teaching that begins on Jan. 27 a lecture series for Lent that starts on March 1, a conference on the Sacred Heart being offered on May 15 and Aug. 28, and a six-week class on St. Joseph in the summer starting in July. We have something for everybody – just reach out to us!